Soybean growers want food aid at USDA

The American Soybean Association has passed a resolution that supports moving all U.S. international agricultural development programs to the Agriculture Department.

At present most U.S. international agricultural development programs are based at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which launched a major initiative called Feed the Future in the Obama administration.

Food aid, the provision of mostly American foodstuffs to hungry people in troubled areas, is split between USDA and USAID.

ASA delegates passed the resolution at their meeting in Phoenix on Saturday during the Commodity Classic.

“We believe that international agricultural assistance programs that focus primarily on agricultural development are best run by the federal agency that has institutional knowledge on these matters, and that’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said ASA President Wade Cowan, a farmer from Brownfield, Texas.

“The men and women at USDA know not only how these programs work on the ground in the country of need, but also how they benefit farmers here in the U.S.”

USDA has a knowledge base in research, land grant education and extension, and technology transfer, Cowan added.

ASA’s proposal runs counter to a bill that passed the House last year and others being promoted this year that would make USAID the key agency in charge of food aid as well as international agricultural development.

Those bills emanate from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee rather than the Agriculture committees.

Farm and humanitarian groups have often been at odds over the mix of food aid and agricultural development and how much food aid the U.S. government should buy in other countries.

An ASA insider said that ASA members have noted that U.S. foreign aid is often criticized and that putting international agricultural assistance at USDA might strengthen its political position. The insider also noted that USAID often relies on USDA personnel for expertise on international agricultural development for its Feed the Future program.

Historically, however, USDA has focused on promoting commercial sales of U.S. products rather than helping farmers in other countries increase their production, while USAID has engaged in all kinds of international development.

Meanwhile, Oxfam issued a report that said its case studies of Feed the Future projects showed they “tend to most benefit producers who already have the resources, capacity, and relationships to take advantage of new market opportunities and to experiment with new production techniques and technologies.”

“In practical terms, this means that the most resource-constrained, risk-averse, and marginalized producers face the highest barriers to taking advantage of the support FtF provides,” the report said.

Oxfam recommended that “core agricultural development programs should be carefully calibrated to reach as many resource-constrained and poor, small-scale producers as possible.”

“In some instances this step requires linking farmers to appropriate services, including financial institutions that make it possible for them to make smart on-farm investments. Too often, lack of access to credit was cited as a key constraint to participating in or adopting agricultural practices promoted through FtF programs.

“In addition, better linkages are needed between agricultural productivity projects and social protection programs that can effectively support very poor and marginalized producers.Projects also need to more systematically focus on providing women with appropriate support, for example, by focusing on the specific crops they grow and working with the formal and informal organizations to which they belong.”

–The Hagstrom Report